- What is Responsive Space?
- Background Information
- Responsive Space Objectives
- Space Systems Threats
- Space Segment – Responsive Satellites
- Reprioritize Existing On-Orbit Satellites
- Activate On-Orbit Spare Satellites
- Launch Replacement Satellites
- Launch Segment – Responsive Launch
What is Responsive Space?
Responsive Space as a concept is fundamentally driven by defense organizations. Defense organizations are increasingly dependent upon space-based systems for operations. These organizations need the ability to: be able to augment capacity on demand based on tactical requirements; and rapidly replace disabled space-based systems to restore capability. The capability which addresses that need is generally referred to as Responsive Space.
There is currently a lack of universally agreed nomenclature related to Responsive Space.
Space-based Systems that defense organizations depend upon are referred to using a variety of different terms including: Space-Based Data, Products and Services (DPS), satellites, space-based assets, space vehicles, and spacecraft.
Responsive Space is referred to using a variety of different terms including: operationally responsive space; responsive launch; fast launch; rapid agile launch; operationally responsive launch; tactically responsive launch; space service support; tactically responsive space; responsive space launch; rapid launch; responsive satellites; resilient space systems; responsive launch range; and on-demand launch. Most Responsive Space definitions and developments are focused on responsive launch. However Responsive Space has a scope that is much more encompassing, as described further on.
For background on the components of space systems, please refer to the following articles:
- What are the Components of a Satellite?
- Space System Segments – A Quick Overview
- Satellite Classification Taxonomy
- The Infrastructure Behind Satellite Communication: Ground Equipment Explained
- Launch Flight Safety Ranges – A Comprehensive Guide
Responsive Space Objectives
The US objectives for responsive space are described in the following table:
|Rapidly adapt or augment existing space capabilities when needed to expand operational capability.||Tactical: Responsive Space enables the rapid deployment of additional capacity based on operational tactical needs. |
The additional capacity could include such things as: increase communications capacity, or increase ISR coverage, for specific regions on Earth.
|Rapidly reconstitute or replenish space capabilities to preserve operational capability.||Strategic: Responsive Space enables resilience for Space-based DPS assets. The ability to affordably and responsively replace space–based assets are also believed to be a deterrent to adversaries, due to the ease and speed by which disabled capabilities can be restored.|
In a NATO and European context, Responsive Space is focused on interoperability to support data sharing and mission operations. The interoperability scope is across military and commercial space-based assets. NATO as an organization has explicitly stated the organization will not the acquiring any space-based capabilities but instead will rely upon member states sharing of their capabilities.
Space Systems Threats
Space systems are expected to be a target for adversaries due to defense organizations’ heavy dependence upon space-based systems. Threats from adversaries can come in the following forms:
Espionage: Information collection efforts targeting national security assets and space systems operations, technologies, manufacturing processes, and logistical networks.
Sabotage: Physical threats to space systems payloads, fuels, spacecraft production facilities, transportation, ground operations, software, and command and control facilities.
Supply Chain Compromise: Space systems components (e.g., hardware, software) may be compromised to provide adversaries with covert access allowing them to disable assets, or to collect information.
Cyber Warfare: Cyber attacks against space systems communications links and assets.
Nuclear Forces: Immediate effects from a nuclear weapon detonated in orbit as well as the resulting increase in background radiation, can destroy or degrade space assets.
Counterspace Threats: Physical threats to space systems and operations, such as directed energy, kinetic energy, jamming, and sabotage against ground assets.
Threats to space systems are growing as more countries and non-state actors acquire counterspace capabilities and, in some cases, employ them in more ways.CSIS, 2020
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) publishes an annual threat assessment, including details of types of counterspace capabilities. CSIS assessments capture the counterspace efforts of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and others. CSIS’ most recent assessment highlighted increasing efforts to integrate counterspace weapons into forces and operational plans, the growing risk of dual-use capabilities, and new capability development, including new direct ascent or co-orbital ASAT weapons, laser ASAT systems on additional airborne and ground-based platforms, and new cyber capabilities.
The Secure World Foundation also publishes an annual threat assessment.
Responsive Space Components
Responsive Space places requirements on the following space systems components:
|Doctrine||Tactics, Techniques and Procedures|
Payloads including: C3, PNT, ISR, SSA, SDA, SWx, SEW, SIGINT, etc.
|Link||Uplink and Downlink Between On-Orbit Satellites and Terrestrial Facilities (including satellite to ground station direct and using on-orbit satellite to satellite networking to connect to ground station)|
Networked and Point to Point Links Between Terrestrial Facilities
|Information||IT Facilities and Operations |
Data Interoperability, Interchangeability and Standards
Terrestrial Data Processing, Storage and Distribution
Information and Access Security
Supply Chain Security and Management
Launch Vehicle Propellants and Gases Supply
Payload Integration and Testing
Range Operations and Safety
Launch Vehicle Manufacturing and Testing
Launch Vehicle Refurbishment and Testing
Supply Chain Security and Management
Launch vehicle stockpile
| Ground |
Satellite Command and Control
Mission Control Center(s) Fixed and Mobile
Space Situational Awareness Operations
Mission Planning and Management
Satellite Manufacturing and Testing
Responsive Launch Procurement
Supply Chain Security and Management
Space Segment – Responsive Satellites
The Responsive Satellites capability can be achieved using three different approaches:
- Reprioritize existing on-orbit satellites
- Activate on-orbit spare satellites
- Launch replacement satellites
Reprioritize Existing On-Orbit Satellites
Using the existing on-orbit capabilities by: reprioritizing a satellite’s use and/or by changing a satellite’s orbit. This approach would be expected to take effect within a few days after mission tasking.
Activate On-Orbit Spare Satellites
When deploying satellites to orbit, a number of identical spare satellites would also deployed on-orbit and held in standby mode. Spare satellites would be activated and moved into position when required to replenish or augment.
Launch Replacement Satellites
The creation and management of a ground stockpile of replacement satellites which can be quickly integrated with responsive launch vehicles. The ground stockpile can be realized using different approaches which are described below:
|STOCKPILED SATELLITES APPROACH||DESCRIPTION||READY FOR LAUNCH VEHICLE INTEGRATION|
|Mission Specific||Requires the maintenance of a stockpile of ready to fly, mission specific satellites (e.g. clones of the satellites currently in orbit) which can be quickly integrated with a responsive launch vehicle, and launched into orbit.||hours to days|
|Standardized Mission-Configurable||Requires the maintenance of a stockpile of standardized satellite bus systems and a separate stockpile of compatible plug and play payloads. Satellites are assembled and configured with payloads as required by the mission tasking.||days to weeks|
|On Demand Manufacturing||Requires the maintenance of a stockpile of components and a high speed production line that can be rapidly scaled. Replacement satellites would be manufactured on demand and subsequently integrated with the responsive launch system.||weeks to months|
Launch Segment – Responsive Launch
A key requirement for Responsive Space is having a launch capability that can be rapidly mobilized and offer operators control over the launch origin, launch windows, and orbits.
Launch Capacity and Cadence
Launch capacity and cadence is dependent upon launch vehicle supply, and time to: prepare the launch vehicle for flight, complete integration with payload, deployment to launch site, launch vehicle fueling and launch execution.
Launch vehicle supply can be delivered using any of the following approaches:
|APPROACHES TO LAUNCH VEHICLE SUPPLY||DESCRIPTION||READY FOR PAYLOAD INTEGRATION|
|Reprioritize Launch Vehicles||Launch vehicles assigned to commercial or government missions would be reprioritized for defense organization missions.||hours to days|
|Stockpile Launch Vehicles||A stockpile of manufactured, tested launch vehicles would be maintained in a state ready to deploy. In this case, the launch vehicles could be maintained ready to integrate with payloads, or they could be already pre-integrated with specific payloads.||days to weeks|
|On Demand Launch Vehicles Manufacturing||This approach requires the maintenance of a stockpile of components and a standardized production line that can be rapidly scaled. Launch vehicles would be manufactured on demand and subsequently integrated with the payloads. Rocket Lab advertises that they can build one Electron rocket per month with their current production system.||weeks to months|
Launch Origin, Windows and Orbits
The selection of launch system type dictates the flexibility of launch origin, launch windows, and orbits:
Fixed Infrastructure, Vertical Launch Systems: are typically limited to specific physical launch sites and require specialized infrastructure. In this case, the launch site location will determine the accessible orbits. For example, SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicles are able to launch from Florida or California.
Air Transportable, Air Launch Systems (also known as horizontal launch): provide the greatest flexibility relative to launch windows and orbits. The launch vehicle is carried by a mothership and launched from a high altitude. Associated ground support equipment are containerized and are air transportable to the mothership launch site. Virgin Orbit LauncherOne and Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL are both examples of air launch systems.
Air Transportable, Vertical Launch Systems: provide flexibility to deploy to different physical launch sites around the world. This type of launch system typically requires only minimal launch site infrastructure, e.g. only a concrete pad. Everything required to launch the rockets are transported to the site in standard air transportable shipping containers. ABL is one example of an air transportable launch system.
Launch Ranges – Responsive Launch Range
Launch ranges – for both air launch and physical launch sites – must support flexible scheduling for on-demand and short notice launches.
Launch Operations and Infrastructure
The speed with which a launch can occur after mission tasking, and the frequency of subsequent launches, will depend upon the launch operator processes, availability of trained staff, and availability of consumables such as propellant, oxidizers and pressurized gases such as nitrogen.
Applications of Responsive Space
There are three use cases for Responsive Space:
|Augmentation||Adding additional capability to what is already on orbit.||Defense Organizations|
Commercial Satellite Operators
|Reconstitution||Quickly replacing a lost capability. Reconstitution may not be replenishment in kind, but it could provide reduced capabilities.||Defense Organizations|
Commercial Satellite Operators
|Technology Innovation||Support rapid deployment and testing of new technologies and architectures to support technological leadership.||Defense Organizations|
Commercial Satellite Operators
Responsive Space Customer Segments
There are two customer segments currently engaged in Responsive Space: defense organizations, and commercial satellite operators.
The United States and the European Union are both in the early stages of understanding use cases, requirements and specifications. Both are looking at current state-of-the-art vendor capabilities. Based upon the results of the evaluations, future responsive launch system procurement requirements and standard operations processes will be identified and developed. The goal is to converge on an operational Responsive Space capability.
Currently, responsive space missions are primarily concept of operations and technology evaluation missions funded by US government organizations such as the US Space Force. Based upon the timelines of existing procurement vehicles such as OPS-4, it is unlikely that the US Space Force will make a final decision on operational systems procurement until at least 2027.
United States agencies have executed on the following responsive space missions, which are described in their press releases:
U.S. Space Force Successfully Launches First Tactically Responsive Launch Mission
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The U. S. Space Force successfully launched the Tactically Responsive Launch-2 (TacRL-2) mission on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on June 13 at 4:11 a.m. EDT, delivering a technology demonstration satellite to Low Earth Orbit.
Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched threestaged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft. Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.
Tactically responsive launch, as a concept, seeks to introduce speed, agility, and flexibility into the launch enterprise in order to respond to dynamic changes in the space domain or an operational theater and insert or replace assets on orbit much faster than standard timelines to meet emerging combatant command requirements.
“Today’s successful launch is a clear signal to our strategic competitors that we will not cede access to space,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond. “When I challenged the Space and Missile Systems Center about a year ago to demonstrate a responsive space capability, they accepted and delivered! The team presented an integrated Space Domain Awareness satellite ready for launch in record time; what normally would have required two to five years, took 11 months.
“The space domain is defined by speed,” Raymond said. “And with this effort, we demonstrated the kind of speed it will take to win. We executed a ‘21-day call-up’ to get a satellite on orbit – pulling the payload, mating it with the rocket and integrating the combined package onto the aircraft. Agile, responsive capability development, combined with our ability to rapidly launch and insert capabilities into space where we want, when we want, will deny our competitors the perceived benefits of beginning a conflict in, or extending a conflict to, space.”
The TacRL-2 mission was executed by the Small Launch and Targets Division within the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise, in partnership with SMC’s Space Safari Office, and launched a satellite built and operated by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory.
During a six-month standby period, a notice to launch was executed and the satellite launched several weeks later, exercising Concept of Operations, tactics, techniques and procedures required of a responsive launch.
“I am very pleased with the success of this tactical launch demonstrating rapid and responsive technologies, and what it means for the continuous Space Force support to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief, Small Launch and Targets Division. “The team completed the launch vehicle design, build, integration and testing in only four months from contract award, and then executed the launch within a few weeks of call-up.”
TacRL-2 was the first mission supported by SMC’s new Space Safari Program Office. Space Safari rapidly integrates mature technology and systems to quickly respond to specialized space needs.
For TacRL-2, Space Safari successfully demonstrated their end-to-end approach to tactically responsive missions by acquiring and integrating the space vehicle, launch vehicle, payloads and ground elements in record time, as well as conducting on-orbit planning and operator training.
This mission was a first-of-its-kind effort that has already identified several constraints and lessons learned. The USSF will use this information to improve upcoming TacRL missions with the Space Safari office planned to launch in 2022 and 2023. Tactically Responsive Launch is the first step toward the USSF acquiring a tactical space mobility and logistics capability to support combatant command’s future requirements for tactical spacepower.
Rocket Lab to Launch Responsive Space Missions for National Reconnaissance Office
July 05, 2022 04:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time
LONG BEACH, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Rocket Lab USA, Inc (Nasdaq: RKLB) (“Rocket Lab” or “the Company”), a leading launch and space systems company, today announced its next two launches will be responsive space missions for the United States Government’s National Reconnaissance Office.
Launching from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on two Electron rockets, Rocket Lab is scheduled to deploy satellites to space for the NRO within only 10 days of each other. NROL-162 (“Wise One Looks Ahead”) will launch from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1’s Pad A no earlier than July 12, with NROL-199 (“Antipodean Adventure”) scheduled to launch from Pad B no earlier than July 22.
The NROL-162 and NROL-199 missions will carry national security payloads designed, built, and operated by the National Reconnaissance Office in partnership with the Australian Department of Defence as part of a broad range of cooperative satellite activities with Australia. The satellites will support the NRO to provide critical information to government agencies and decision makers monitoring international issues.
These twin missions will be a demonstration of responsive launch under NRO’s Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR) contract for launching small satellite through a streamlined, commercial approach, and are the third and fourth missions contracted to Rocket Lab by the NRO under the contract. NROL-151 (RASR-1) was successfully deployed to space on a dedicated Electron launch in early 2020, followed by RASR-2 on another Electron launch in June 2020.
Rocket Lab CEO and founder, Peter Beck, says: “Space plays such a critical role in providing immediate insights and informing time-sensitive decisions, so a responsive, modern approach accessing orbit is crucial. This is what we’ve established with Electron and multiple launch sites – reliable rockets and multiple pads at the ready to support the national security community’s responsive space needs. Our quick turnaround for these two national security missions will be just the latest demonstration of our responsive space capability, and we’re honored to be a trusted mission partner to the NRO once again for these important RASR missions.”
“Wise One Looks Ahead” launch details:
Launch Window Opens: July 12, UTC
Launch vehicle: Electron
Customer: National Reconnaissance Office
Launch site: Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, Pad A
Mission type: Dedicated
“Antipodean Adventure” launch details:
Launch Window Opens: July 22, UTC
Launch vehicle: Electron
Customer: National Reconnaissance Office
Launch site: Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, Pad B
Mission type: Dedicated
About Rocket Lab
Founded in 2006, Rocket Lab is an end-to-end space company with an established track record of mission success. We deliver reliable launch services, satellite manufacture, spacecraft components, and on-orbit management solutions that make it faster, easier and more affordable to access space. Headquartered in Long Beach, California, Rocket Lab designs and manufactures the Electron small orbital launch vehicle and the Photon satellite platform and is developing the Neutron 8-ton payload class launch vehicle. Since its first orbital launch in January 2018, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has become the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually and has delivered 147 satellites to space for private and public sector organizations, enabling operations in national security, scientific research, space debris mitigation, Earth observation, climate monitoring, and communications. Rocket Lab’s Photon spacecraft platform has been selected to support NASA missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as the first private commercial mission to Venus. Rocket Lab has three launch pads at two launch sites, including two launch pads at a private orbital launch site located in New Zealand and a second launch site in Virginia, USA which is expected to become operational in 2022. To learn more, visit http://www.rocketlabusa.com.
About National Reconnaissance Office
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is the U.S. Government agency in charge of designing, building, launching, and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites. Whether creating the latest innovations in satellite technology, contracting with the most cost-efficient industrial supplier, conducting rigorous launch schedules, or providing the highest-quality products to customers, the NRO is always focused on protecting the U.S. and its citizens.
Since 1961, NRO has pushed the envelope of U.S. space-based intelligence collection with boldness and ingenuity. Today, NRO’s innovative legacy continues to thrive as it develops, acquires, launches, and operates the world’s most capable intelligence satellites. NROL-162 & 199 will strengthen NRO’s ability to provide a wide-range of timely intelligence information to national decision makers and intelligence analysts to protect the Nation’s vital interests and support humanitarian efforts worldwide.
U.S. Space Force Selects Firefly Aerospace for ‘Rapid Space’ VICTUS NOX Mission
October 03, 2022
CEDAR PARK, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Firefly Aerospace, Inc, announced today that the company has been selected by The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) Space Systems Command (SSC) to provide launch services for SSC’s VICTUS NOX mission. The effort was awarded as the Tactically Responsive Space (TacRS-3) Launch Service Task Order under the Orbital Services Program 4 (OSP-4) Contract.
“This end-to-end mission will demonstrate the United States’ ability to rapidly place an asset on-orbit when and where we need it, ensuring we can augment our space capabilities with very little notice”
The VICTUS NOX mission will demonstrate an end-to-end Tactically Responsive Space capability, including the launch segment, space segment, ground segment, and on-orbit operations. VICTUS NOX will perform a Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).
“We are honored to be chosen by Space Force for this important national security mission,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. “Now more than ever, our country needs the ability for quick response capabilities to combat threats in space. Our Alpha launch vehicle is designed to drive affordable, rapid access to space. We look forward to working with Lt. Col. Justin Beltz and Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough along with their experienced team at Space Force to help bring this innovation to the national security community.”
“This end-to-end mission will demonstrate the United States’ ability to rapidly place an asset on-orbit when and where we need it, ensuring we can augment our space capabilities with very little notice,” said Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough, Materiel Leader at SSC’s Space Safari.
The goal of the program is to bolster the United States “responsive space” capabilities allowing for the fast deployment of satellites during a conflict.
“Space Systems Command is committed to addressing threats in the space domain and VICTUS NOX will provide space capabilities on an unprecedented timeline,” stated Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, SSC’s Small Launch and Targets Division, chief. “The United States’ launch industry is the envy of the world, innovating to bring more speed and more capability at a lower price.”
This award comes on the heels of Firefly’s first successful orbital flight. Alpha Flight 2 mission successfully launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base on October 1st. The company is also preparing for their upcoming Alpha Flight 3 mission currently being integrated to carry the NASA VCLS Demo 2 payload.
About Firefly Aerospace
Firefly is developing a family of launch and in-space vehicles and services that provide industry-leading affordability, convenience, and reliability. Firefly’s launch vehicles utilize common technologies, manufacturing infrastructure and launch capabilities, providing LEO launch solutions for up to ten metric tons of payload at the lowest cost per kg in the small-launch class. Combined with Firefly’s in-space vehicles, such as the Space Utility Vehicle and Blue Ghost Lunar Lander, Firefly provides the space industry with a single source for missions from LEO to the surface of the Moon or beyond. Firefly is headquartered in Cedar Park, TX. For more information please see: http://www.fireflyspace.com.
Millennium Space Systems Awarded Space Safari Effort
EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Oct. 3, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Millennium is delivering the satellite for VICTUS NOX, a Tactically Responsive Space mission led by the Space Safari Program Office within Space Systems Command.
“We’re extremely excited to partner with Millennium Space Systems on our upcoming VICTUS NOX mission. Their innovative team is helping lead the way for Tactically Responsive Space, ensuring the U.S. has the ability to immediately respond to any on-orbit need,” said Lt Col MacKenzie Birchenough, Materiel Leader, Space Safari.
VICTUS NOX is the next Tactically Responsive Space demonstration. The mission’s main focus is to deliver a satellite into operations on a tactically relevant timeline in order to demonstrate a credible response to new on-orbit threats. Once given the go ahead from Space Force Leadership, the goal is to have the satellite and launch vehicle come together, mated, encapsulated, launched and placed into Low-Earth orbit within 24 hours. Once on orbit, the satellite will conduct a Space Domain Awareness mission.
Millennium will pull a satellite from its production line, modify it for the TacRS mission and deliver within eight months. Critical to the program is its short call-up time, allowing just hours to run the satellite through final testing, fueling and delivery to the launch site.
“VICTUS NOX is right up our alley – going fast is just in our DNA,” said Jason Kim, chief executive officer, Millennium Space Systems. “We deliver secure, assured systems rapidly, like Tetra-1 –delivered in less than 13 months and Dragracer in just nine months.”
Millennium’s national security-focused small sat production line and common core products really positioned us to support Space Safari’s intention to push the envelope for rapidly conducting space missions.
VICTUS NOX will launch in 2023. Millennium will perform VICTUS NOX mission operations from its headquarters in El Segundo, California. The company’s in-house ground software enables system operations, and the autonomy developed allows for near lights-out operations.
About Millennium Space Systems
Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing Company, delivers high-performing prototype and constellation solutions across advanced national security and environmental observation missions. Founded in 2001, the company’s small satellite missions support government, civil and commercial space customers’ needs across orbits.
ABL selected for $60mm tactical space STRATFI
EL SEGUNDO, Calif., March 24, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — ABL announced today its selection by AFWERX for the Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program. The $60 million program will expand ABL’s existing work on operational flexibility for low-cost launches supporting Tactically Responsive Space (TacRS).
ABL’s deployable launch system activated in Kodiak, AK
“Our team is thrilled to be selected for this award,” said Eva Abramson, Head of Strategic Development at ABL. “We believe that operational flexibility is key to meeting the rapidly changing needs of our customers. This award will help us in further developing on-call launch capabilities to meet mission-driven payload, launch site and target orbit needs.”
The effort extends multiple collaborative efforts with AFRL and SSC. A key challenge in TacRS is breaking from the assumption of a pre-defined orbit, trajectory, and launch site. For missions demanding responsive launch, ABL will build operational capacity to both tap into capabilities on standby and react to new mission needs.
“We are excited to leverage our existing efforts to achieve rapid prototyping, flexibility, and affordability across a site network which can be tasked according to mission need,” said Abramson.
ABL is a leading provider of low-cost, flexible launch solutions that enable customers to achieve their mission objectives. A focus on affordability, flexibility, and innovation has made ABL a trusted partner for both government and commercial customers.
For more information, visit ablspacesystems.com
AFRL, ABL Space Systems demonstrate rapid operation of launch systems
Published April 21, 2022
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. —
16The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, and ABL Space Systems are collaborating to demonstrate how launch systems can be operated rapidly by small teams from nontraditional sites. Leveraging ABL’s deployable ground system, GS0, and small launch vehicle, RS1, a series of ground demonstrations is underway at multiple U.S. military installations aimed at quickly training participants to activate GS0 and simulate the run-up to an orbital launch.
ABL and AFRL partnered with operators from the 2nd Space Launch Squadron and 412th Test Wing to conduct the first demonstration activity. The complete test campaign, from training to full operations with cryogenic rocket propellants, was accomplished in a few days. In doing so, ABL and partners successfully determined the minimum resources to activate GS0 and validated the strong training base and capability of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force active-duty personnel for conducting liquid rocket concept of operations and fielding of novel deployable systems.
“The ability to control, exploit and access the space domain is vital for our nation,” said Dr. Shawn Phillips, chief of AFRL’s Rocket Propulsion Division. “Space launch must be dynamic, responsive and provide the ability to rapidly augment or reconstitute capability gaps. ABL’s RS1 and GS0 systems provide a uniquely flexible capability to provide warfighters the ability to accomplish these objectives by conducting orbital launch operations at any time, at any location desired.”
While traditional launch operations are planned months or years in advance, ABL is working to demonstrate systems that can ready a new orbital launch site from any flat concrete pad in under 24 hours with a small team of personnel. While the launch status quo requires significant investments in fixed infrastructure, ABL’s systems, which are packaged into standard shipping containers, require no lifting equipment to operate. AFRL is testing the self-sufficiency of these systems, conducting experiments and evaluating how quickly skilled operators can be trained to operate them.
Through AFWERX, part of the AFRL, this demonstration campaign has brought together players from across the national security space enterprise including acquisition, science, technology, and operations. These diverse perspectives ensure capabilities under development can best support next-generation missions.
“We optimize RS1 and GS0 for lean operations,” said Dan Piemont, ABL co-founder and president. “We’re exploring how this flexibility can provide unique value to the Department of Defense. “As space becomes more contested and competitive, new mission profiles will emerge, and we must be able to adapt to their needs on a relevant timeline without introducing prohibitive cost.”
ABL and partners are gearing up for a second demonstration activity in the coming months, which seeks to expand operational realism by incorporating additional elements and operations. The second demo will include live deployment of GS0 mobile launch infrastructure as well as integration of RS1 launch vehicle operations. Systems will arrive at a simple site with a concrete pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
Newly trained operators will activate the support systems, raise a vehicle stage using ABL’s deployable launch mount; complete propellant loading; perform a countdown to launch; simulate scrubbing; and reestablish a safe pad state. These activities are critical to demonstrating the feasibility of rapid launch operations; refining operational concepts; identifying technical challenges; and increasing the technology readiness level for a DOD responsive and resilient launch capability.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit: http://www.afresearchlab.com.
The AFRL Rocket Propulsion Division has played a key role in advancing rocket engine technologies for the nation since 1952. AFRL has been a prominent player in nearly every liquid rocket engine developed and flown by the United States.
Department of Defense Awards Relativity Space New Responsive Launch Contract
Relativity’s Terran 1, World’s first 3D-printed Launch Vehicle, offers Disruptive Technology for Launch as a Service
Los Angeles, California (March 15, 2020) – Relativity Space announced today that it has been awarded its first orbital launch contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), facilitated by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). This contract was awarded as a Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Launch Enterprise follow-up effort to the DoD Space Test Program (STP) Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI) to identify capable commercial solutions for low-cost, responsive access to space “as a service” using launch systems with capacity between 450-1,200 kg to low-Earth orbit (LEO). Relativity’s entirely 3D-printed launch vehicle, Terran 1, meets the DoD’s needs for disruptive launch solutions to orbit.
DIU works to strengthen America’s national security by accelerating the adoption of leading commercial technology and giving innovative American businesses the opportunity to solve high-impact national security problems. This mission aligns with Relativity’s ambitions to revolutionize how rockets are designed, built, and flown with the world’s first entirely 3D-printed rocket.
“It is an honor to continue to serve the U.S. Government and build upon our nation’s leading abilities in space with Relativity’s first DoD satellite launch contract award. The Defense Innovation Unit is a group whose innovative approach aligns with the work we are doing at Relativity to revolutionize the future of aerospace,” said Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder of Relativity. “I’m excited for what our teams will accomplish together as we look forward to launching our first DoD payload set.”
This agreement represents the ninth announced launch customer for Relativity and the third announced government customer, following the recently announced Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract with NASA.
About Relativity Space
Relativity is building humanity’s multiplanetary future. We invented a new approach to design, build, and fly our own rockets, starting with Terran 1 – the world’s first entirely 3D-printed rocket.
As a vertically integrated technology platform, Relativity is at the forefront of an inevitable shift toward software-defined manufacturing. By fusing 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics, we are pioneering the factory of the future. Disrupting 60 years of aerospace, Relativity offers a radically simplified supply chain, building a rocket with 100x fewer parts in less than 60 days.
We believe in a future where interplanetary life fundamentally expands the possibilities for human experience. Our long-term vision is to upgrade humanity’s industrial base on Earth and on Mars.
USSF successfully launches 4 satellites from VOX Space 747, demonstrates versatility in payload delivery
Date: Jan. 13, 2022
Mojave Air and Space Port, Calif. – The US Space Force (USSF) Space Systems Command (SSC) and VOX Space, a US-incorporated, wholly-owned subsidiary to Virgin Orbit, successfully launched four Department of Defense (DoD) Research and Development (R&D) satellites on Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One at 2:51 p.m. PST today, deploying from Mojave Air and Space Port, Ca.
The mission, designated STP-27VPB, showcased one of our commercially-available solutions for delivering DoD satellites using non-traditional partners. As such, it demonstrates not only our ability to launch from multiple locations, but proves the flexibility and resiliency of the USSF delivery options in an increasingly congested and contested environment.
The DoD Space Test Program (STP), organized under SSC, procured the mission in partnership with Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) as part of the Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI). This initiative leveraged DIU’s Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) process to competitively and rapidly award DoD launch service agreements with non-traditional, commercial venture-class companies. This launch was the second DoD space launch from Mojave Air and Space Port, Ca. utilizing VOX Space’s modified 747.
“Our continued partnership with non-traditional vendors is demonstrating agile space access, allowing us to prove new technologies and advance future warfighter capabilities,” said Col. Brian Denaro, program executive officer for space development.
The DoD experimental satellites onboard the VOX Space launch include R&D missions sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These experiments and demonstrations will advance multiple technologies related to CubeSat-based laser communications, localized space-based communication networks, radio frequency measurement technology, and autonomous maneuvering systems. These satellites will demonstrate advanced space technologies and accelerate the fielding of future space systems for US government agencies and space capabilities for the DoD.
“I’m thrilled with today’s successful launch,” said Col. Carlos Quinones, director of the DoD Space Test Program. “This success extends STP’s legacy for significantly expanding space access while also delivering innovative space capabilities. It showcases how partnerships can significantly cut down the timeline from concept to execution.”
The DoD STP office is located at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. STP, under the direction of SSC’s Space Development Corps procured and managed the STP-27VPB mission. STP drives demonstrations of new capabilities and expedient space access solutions for R&D experiments that will enhance current operational capabilities, enable future military space systems, and reduce risk for future operational missions.
Space Systems Command (SSC), headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California, is a U.S. Space Force field command responsible for developing and acquiring lethal and resilient space capabilities for warfighters by rapidly identifying, prototyping, fielding and sustaining innovative, space-based solutions to meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy. SSC’s functions include developmental testing, production, launch, on-orbit checkout, and maintenance of USSF space systems, as well as and oversight of USSF science and technology activities.
Commercial Satellite Operators
Today, commercial constellation operators such as Iridium and SpaceX maintain on orbit spare satellites that can be moved into position to replace disabled satellites in the constellation. Spare satellites are also kept stockpiled on the ground and ready for launch when it is necessary to replenish on orbit spares.
One of the first examples of a commercial application of responsive space is Iridium and Relativity. In 2020, Iridium signed a launch contract with Relativity to deliver satellites to orbit. The contract includes flexible timing for up to six dedicated launches to deploy Iridium’s ground spare satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The launches will take place on an as-needed basis, determined by Iridium and utilizing Relativity’s Terran 1 launch vehicle. Launches are planned for no earlier than 2023.
Iridium Selects Relativity Space as On-Demand Single Satellite Launch Partner
Los Angeles, CA (June 24, 2020) – Relativity Space today announced that Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) has signed a launch contract to deliver satellites to orbit. The contract includes flexible timing for up to six dedicated launches to deploy Iridium’s ground spare satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The launches will take place on an as-needed basis, determined by Iridium and utilizing Relativity’s Terran 1, the world’s first 3D printed launch vehicle. Launches are planned for no earlier than 2023.
The second-generation Iridium constellation was completed in January 2019 and consists of 66 operational satellites and 9 in-orbit spares. An additional six satellites were manufactured as ground spares and remain in storage. Should the need arise to launch a ground spare, Relativity’s Terran 1 offers a cost-effective, efficient response time option for Iridium to quickly deploy a satellite to one of its six orbital planes. Relativity’s disruptive large-scale robotic 3D printing technology enables launches within months, instead of years.
“The upgraded Iridium satellite constellation is operating incredibly well, but it’s prudent to have a cost-effective launch option available for future spare delivery,” said Matt Desch CEO of Iridium. “Relativity’s Terran 1 fits our launch needs to LEO well from both a price, responsiveness and capability perspective. And we know based on our previous experience that there are great benefits to engaging with a provider early on during development of the launch vehicle and it evolving around our particular needs.”
On June 24, 2020, Relativity also announced a Right of Entry Agreement with the United States Air Force, 30th Space Wing, for development of rocket launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base. These launch site facilities will support flights to the polar orbits needed for the Iridium satellite constellation.
“Iridium offers critical communications over the planet’s entire surface, and we are very proud to be their launch partner that supports this capability,” said Tim Ellis, CEO and co-founder, Relativity Space. “As the first 3D printed launch vehicle, Terran 1 offers uniquely disruptive flexibility, cost, and performance advantages, especially for medium-payload missions that need dedicated launches.”
Relativity continues to grow its customer manifest and public-private partnerships. This agreement is the fifth announced launch customer for Relativity, and the first to take advantage of the company’s recently announced Right of Entry at Vandenberg Air Force Base. A potential launch site at Vandenberg is Relativity’s latest addition to its portfolio of major infrastructure partnerships, which also include a launch site Right of Entry at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex-16 and an exclusive-use Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) agreement for NASA test sites E4 and E2 at the NASA Stennis Space Center.
About Relativity Space
Relativity is the first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite payloads. The company’s vision is to expand the possibilities for human experience by building the future of humanity in space, faster — starting with rockets. Disrupting 60 years of aerospace, Relativity’s factory vertically integrates intelligent robotics and 3D autonomous manufacturing technology to build the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket, Terran 1. Relativity is the first application-layer 3D printing company; Terran 1 is the first application. Terran 1 has 100x lower part count than traditional rockets, a radically simple supply chain, and will be built from raw material to flight in less than 60 days with unparalleled iteration speed. As a next-generation space company, Relativity deploys and resupplies satellite payloads with industry-defining lead time, flexibility, and cost to better connect and secure our planet.
Relativity is backed by leading investors including Bond, Tribe Capital, Playground Global, Y Combinator, Social Capital, and Mark Cuban. For more information, please visit https://www.relativityspace.com/ and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Iridium Communications Inc.
Iridium® is the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe. Iridium enables connections between people, organizations and assets to and from anywhere, in real time. Together with its ecosystem of partner companies, Iridium delivers an innovative and rich portfolio of reliable solutions for markets that require truly global communications. In 2019, the company completed a generational upgrade of its satellite network and launched its new specialty broadband service, Iridium Certus®. Iridium Communications Inc. is headquartered in McLean, Va., U.S.A., and its common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol IRDM. For more information about Iridium products, services and partner solutions, visit http://www.iridium.com.
The Future of Responsive Space
Responsive Space is primarily focused upon removing time and cost constraints currently associated with space systems:
- Cost to launch satellites in orbit
- Cost to manufacture satellites
- Time to design, build, and test satellites
- Time to build and test launch vehicle
- Time to integrate satellites with launch vehicle
- Time from operational need identified, to mission plan completed, and mission tasking issued
- Time between mission tasking and operational satellite in orbit
Responsive Space is currently addressing issues with the existing space technology. As technology advances, space-based assets are expected to become more resistant to counterspace threats due to advances in autonomous operations, and defensive countermeasures. Consequently, the next generation of space-based assets are expected to be less reliant upon replenishment and replacement.